In this new feature, we ask indie writers five very important questions about themselves and their work! Five Questions For... will appear on this blog every other Monday - be sure to sign up for the newsletter and never miss a great new author!
Jenna Books is an award-winning novelist, editor, columnist, coach, and instructor. She writes psychological thrillers that focus on domestic violence and its shattering aftermath, with a special emphasis on family law and the court system. She talks to us here about her passion for writing. Be sure to check out her interview on the Late Night Live show on Narrow Street Films on April 25!!
1. I know when I write a book, I always have a particular person in mind as an audience. Who do you write for?
I write to get my anger out. I write for me. I want people to open their eyes and look around before it’s too late, before they’re facing a situation and don’t know what to do about it. I have to admit, when you read my books, there’s a lot of high style venting. I think I just write so I don’t die of intestinal problems.
2. What made you angry?
I worked as a divorce coach, with a specialization in domestic violence. One afternoon my client and I was threatened by her ex, threatening to run us down with his truck – revving his engines, screaming at us through his window. Not an active threat, but a visual. I got her into her car, sent her on her way, then turned to him and said, “Look, moron, I’m not your wife. If you kill me, you’re going to go to jail.” (I have no sense of self-preservation.)
I was furious. I was driving home, shaking, and suddenly it occurred to me, “What if he had done it?” And that’s where October Snow was born.
3. Family is important! How does your family inspire and support your work?
My son hasn’t even read my books! My daughter edits them, though. They are really supportive. When I told them I was quitting my job and getting a tiny apartment to write full time, they weren’t even surprised. They just said, “Hey, that’s great, Mom!” I think they’re used to my doing weird things. We are a really weird family.
4. Which author is you biggest influence?
The apostle James. I’ve gotten more out of that little book than an entire library. He’s kind of like me, just bucking conventional wisdom. Paul’s pretty good, too.
5. Do you have any writing rituals to keep you motivation?
I don’t even write from an outline – I just write when I’m in the mood. I always know what social message I want and I go from there. Though, as soon as I type ‘The End’, I sigh contentedly, I light a cigarette and pour myself a shot of amaretto. So that’s a ritual.
Bonus Question! So you’ve written two books and two coaching guides. What’s next next?
Next is book three, Meltdown. Jack’s back. That’s all I’m going to say. Anyone who’s read it will know what it means.
In this new feature, we ask indie writers five very important questions about themselves and their work! Five Questions For... will appear on this blog every other Monday - be sure to sign up for the newsletter and never miss a great new author!
1. Welcome to Wanderings! Tell us all about yourself!
I guess it's no surprise I love to read. I have been known to go through periods of time when I read four or five books a week. In addition to my book addiction, I am also a coffee snob. My husband and I travel frequently and one of our favorite things to do is visit local coffee roasters in the cities we travel through. A lot of our travel lately has been in an attempt to visit all the NHL hockey arenas. As of 2018 we have been to almost half of them. I also sing each week with our home church, Living Water Dayton, located in Kettering, OH. I've recently begun leading the worship experiences from time to time, and I facilitate our women's group meetings once a month.
2. I know when I write a book, I always have a particular person in mind as an audience. Who do you write for?
Because I write in several genres (Urban Fantasy Romance and Contemporary Christian) that can be a tricky question to answer. The short answer is that I write for those who need to know there is always hope, but that isn’t really an easily defined audience. My Urban Fantasy series is for readers who are looking for a clean, New Adult, Fantasy Romance that features genuinely good guys. There are some overly ‘warm’ moments and chemistry between the characters that I think satisfy those who are looking for a little more heat in their stories as well. My Challenged Faith Novels are mostly written to the modern church. These are stories about
real people who are facing situations that force them to decide what they are going to believe about God and His Church. The first in the ‘series,’ is Saving Detroit. It is about a 20-something young man who is kidnapped, sold into sex trafficking, and rescued. It is an emotional journey of healing and forgiveness. The next book in the series is about a married gay couple who find themselves welcomed into a church, the third is about a woman who chooses to have an abortion.
These are topics that are easier to deal with by holding a sign or making a social media post, but I know we as Christ Followers can do better. It is my hope that these stories will at least make people think a little differently about the topic, and perhaps see them from a point of view they have never considered.
3. What is your latest book about?
My latest release is the third book in my Cotiere Chronicles series. "The Light"; tells the story of the "bad guy"; from book one. He became a bit of a prodigal and his journey is one of redemption and realizing that who you were is not who you have to continue to be.
He is also a single dad who has to fight for custody of his son. I knew from the beginning Stewart's stay was going to be a difficult one, and that he was going to be a single dad. He’s truly a good guy who got caught up in something he didn’t know how to deal with, and made some dumb choices.
He’s not a tough, alpha, over controlling kind of lead. Most guys aren’t, and I wanted to write about a man who is just trying to do the best he can for his son, and the woman he…well, the woman he’s meant to be with. Love might not be so easy for them. At least, not yet.
4. Who are my favorite authors, and why?
I have three authors I would call favorites. The first is Cassandra Clare. I am in awe of the way she is able to build relationships between her characters. Her Infernal Devices Series has one of the strongest friendships I have ever read in a book series. (Will Herondale and Jem Carstairs have my bookish heart FOREVER.)
Next is an author I recently fell in love with, Sarah J Maas. The world building in her books is what drew me in. The way she created a world that is both familiar and yet so different from reality is amazing. She’s also incredible at foreshadowing her twisty plot lines. Just when you think you know where the story is going, she blindsides you!
The third is an Indie author I admire and aspire to be like. Quinn Loftis is the author who truly inspired me to take the leap and publish my first book. What impressed me most about her is the way her writing has improved from the first book to her current writing. That journey of always improving and not being afraid to put your story out there inspires me constantly.
5. Now the most important question of all: Kirk or Picard?
Absolutely Picard, mostly because I am not a fan of Shatner, though if I had to choose a Captain to serve, it would be Captain Janeway of Voyager. She loves coffee and books!
This week is Holy Week, leading up to Easter. In honor of that, we'll be maintaining radio silence on this site until Easter Monday - when we'll debut an exciting new feature!
In the meantime, here's a song that may help remind you just what this week is all about.
Previously published, but worth repeating....
Now with helpful illustrations!
It is inevitable that every writer will, upon submitting their novel for editing, have that conversation. You know, the one where your editor slides your baby, the thick pile of pages that you've spent so many doting hours on, and utters those dreaded words: "I think you need to cut this scene."
Cutting unnecessary scenes is normal, a natural part of the writing process, and one that should be faced with dignity, maturity, and calm acceptance. But since we're writers and artists, calm and dignity might be expecting a little much.
It can help to know that, not only are we not alone, but there are actually five stages to receiving and accepting an edit. For the benefit of mankind, I outline them here, with illustrative dialog (which may or may not be autobiographical).
Behold: the Five Stages of Editing Acceptance (or, How to Survive Your Mean Editor, with helpful illustrations...)
The writer will resist the cut/edit/suggestion vehemently, to the point of self-delusion.
"What are you talking about? This doesn't need to be cut. This is a perfectly gorgeous scene, so well written Shakespeare would have prostrated himself before my pen! PG Wodehouse would have given up and gone into drama. Shelley and Keats would rise from the dead just to praise me in verse! Yes, it's absolutely necessary. Why? Um, character development, of course. Yes, character development. No, I'm not making that up. Shorten it? Are you nuts? The main character finds a squirrel in her house - it takes twenty pages to describe that properly!"
On facing the editor's implacable insistence, the writer will often turn hostile.
"Well, what do you know, anyway? I'm the writer - in this story, I'm the puppet master, the know-all, be-all and end-all. You just don't understand. Like everyone else, you can't just leave art alone - you have to try to destroy it. Why are we even friends? Yes, the squirrel is important! Do you hate squirrels or something? No, I will NOT keep my voice down. Yes, I will keep that scene, I will, I will, I will! You can't make me cut it. YOU ARE SO UNFAIR!"
Feeling helpless, the writer will then try to regain control of the situation.
"All right, all right, fine! I'll consider it. How about I cut it back by about five pages. Seven? Ten... Ten, and I'll also cut the grocery store scene. Okay, okay, okay, final offer: I'll cut the squirrel scene by fifteen pages and the grocery store scene and toss in another romance scene to sweeten the deal, what do you say?...
"Read it again and get back to you? If I do that, can I keep the squirrel scene?"
Being forced to accept the authority of the editor, the writer will inevitably slump into self-recrimination and depression.
"Yes, I re-read it. You were right. It's horrible. It's stupid, a complete waste of time, ink, and paper. I can't believe I wrote this. Actually, I can. I'm the worst writer ever. This book make PS: I Love You look like a Pulitzer Prize Winner. I should never have learned to write. And what's worse, I ripped into you like... like....
"Well, that’s it. I quit. I'm turning in my keyboard. I'll throw myself on my pencil. Why am I even here? I'm a terrible writer, a terrible friend, a terrible person, and I need a double shot of Crown, like, right now."
Moving forward, the writer sees the wisdom in the suggestion and begins to rebuild their self-esteem - which will last until the next edit or critique.
"Okay, okay, I've cut the scene altogether and you know what? The story flows so much better now! It isn't terrible at all! It's tight, it flows, and I am a genius! Oh, right, it was your idea, I know, but that's what editors are for, right?
"Hey, you know, I was feeling so good, I actually added an epilogue. Remember the tangerine incident? Maybe you haven't gotten that far, but it's hilarious, so I expanded it into this cool little...
"Oh, you read it? What did you think?... It's not trite. It's cute!... Cliche! Honestly, you make me so mad sometimes!"
Writers: making the emotionally unstable look like stoics since the invention of the hieroglyphic.
Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day, historically a bigger deal here in the States, especially Boston, than it is in the Emerald Isle itself. It's the day devoted to the wearing of the green, indulging in blarney (the fine art of telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip), filling your glasses with Guinness, and proudly crowing to all within hearing, "Erin go bragh."
Not Irish? Feeling left out? No need to - I've got great news for you: You don't have to be Irish to celebrate St. Patrick's day!
It's true! Everyone is invited to shilly-shally, tell a long story, wear the green (or the orange, if you're feeling in a fighting mood), or talk about who in your family shook the hand of the man who shook the hand of the man who shook the hand of John L. Sullivan, the Boston Strong Boy. It doesn't matter where you're from - on the 17th of March, everyone is Irish.
I'm not the first or the only one who proclaims this truth. As some of you may or may not already know, Summer Shadows was inspired by a soundtrack to a little-known movie called Flight of the Doves, a 1971 British film based on a book by Irish writer Walter Macken. The music was by jazz musician Roy Budd (of Get Carter fame) and you can listen to the suite on Youtube here.
Flight of the Doves is a story about two orphans that runaway from their cruel guardian to find their grandmother in Ireland. When the guardian realizes that the children are about to come into a sizable inheritance, he hires a master of disguise with no compunctions to hunt the children down. From this rather terrifying situation, a sweeter story emerges as the two orphans discover the warmth and friendship of the Irish - and learn that you don't have to be Irish to be Irish. This truth is told to them in song form (see the awkwardly filmed clip from the movie below).
Truth be told, Irish is steeped so deep into this country that chances are you have a bit of the old sod somewhere in your family history somewhere. And even if were not so, Irish-American culture has seeped into your life in ways you may not be aware . The Irish in New England have worked in the mills, as policemen, on the farms, in the fine houses, in politics, in every sphere available to humanity in this country. The Irish have been here since the first ideas of independence took hold of the American colonists. If you live in the USA, your life has been touched, shaped, or molded in some way by the sons and daughters of Erin.
So, in summary, you don't have to be Irish to be Irish on the 17th - though to quote the song, "You'll live a little more, and you'll love a little more. For that's what it takes to make you Irish." Tomorrow, lift your glasses to the Emerald Isle and shout "Sláinte!" You'll be in the best of company.
Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone! Erin go bragh!
Your writing projects can be great sources of conversations at parties. They can, in turn, be causes of disillusionment. Every once in a while, I'll have a conversation that goes something like this (apologies to every unfortunate soul who got stuck standing next to me at a party!)
So, I hear that you're a writer. Do you make much money off your books?
Good heavens, I'm lucky if I make anything at all!
Oh, all right, so you must have a deep, meaningful message to share with the world.
What is that message?
Um... The world is a cool place with nice people in it? History is fun? Always take time to smell the roses?
<Me thinking: Wow, that is so deep! Maybe I really am a philosopher!>
<thinking: That's about as deep as a Hallmark card.>
So, you write to promote <names a cause>?
Well, I guess if it does, that's a good thing.
Oh, I see! Then you must do it for art?
Art? Golly, I'm not sure if what I do can be called art, but I'll take the compliment, thanks!
Right... So, uh.... why do you write?
Why do I write? That's very simple! It's because... Because... Uh... well, I guess because I like it.
You like it.
Yeah. Plus, I've been doing it so long I don't know what else to do, you know?
That's not terribly artsy. I thought all artists had deep philosophical thought or musings or... something. Anything. Even angst will do.
Yeah, I used to think so too. But angst is exhausting and kinda over-done, don't you find?
Oh, well, I guess... I'm sorry, why do you write again?
Because it's there.
That's why you climb mountains.
You've obviously never written a book. It's much the same.
...Okay, I'm going to go talk to your sister now.
I don't blame you. Have fun.
Previously published, but worth repeating
"You weren't very fair to Miriam," the woman said, looking me straight in the face while her friends, arranged on the couch and surrounding chairs, made apologetic noises. "Julia was mean to her. After all, Miriam lost a son. She was grieving too."
It was a lovely summer afternoon and I was at a book-club discussing Summer Shadows with a group of lovely local ladies. We were surrounded by coffee and tea and cookies and pleasant chatter, but this particular reader would not be sated with such offerings. She had her opinion and wanted to deliver it. When one of her friends nudged her, this woman turned and said, "We can all sit here and tell her (meaning me) nice things, but that won't help, will it?"
And she was right. Without feedback, honest feedback, featuring both positive and negative points, I could never really improve as a storyteller.
In order to grow in anything, its important to learn to accept critiques, to be told, honestly and without malice when you've a grammatical error, left a plot hole, or bored your audience to tears. You'll make no progress without hard work, but hard work without some kind of measurement is like trying to cross the Atlantic without a sextant. You might very well be half way to England, but how will you ever know?
The problem with creative endeavors is that we always show them first to our friends and family and people whom we trust, who already like us, and, in general, think along the same lines we do. Your friends may give you honest feedback, but it will always be biased. My mother, for instance, loved the character of Ron in the first draft, but someone else found him unlikable. "He'll grow up into a real creep," she said. I was appalled, but understood when I reread the passages she pointed out: a few changes in dialog softened the character and made him easier to understand.
That's not to say that negative feedback is more important than positive. It isn't: it carries the exact same weight. It was important to me to know that people liked Julia, because I didn't know if she was too nice, and it helped to know that people liked the progress of the romantic subplot. But only hearing the good creates an imbalance, encouraging the belief that I am a better story-teller than I actually am. A healthy balance of considered opinion is absolutely necessary to make progress.
Writing is an art and art demands an audience. Just like stage actors both give and take cues from the audience, writers, musicians, and painters can take the feedback they're given and use it to build better stories, songs, and paintings. All it takes humility, common sense, the ability to listen, and wisdom (I hope to have the first three, but can't really claim the fourth).
In Summer Shadows, Miriam is a difficult character, whose value systems are different the others, and her overbearing manner makes her easy to dislike. But as my reader, a mother and grandmother herself, expounded on her point, I suddenly saw Miriam through different eyes. She wasn't just a rich woman who liked to have her own way: she was a grieving mother who had been distanced from her grandchildren by a stubborn woman, too young and single to properly raise them. Although Miriam was wrong to push her agendas on her family, Julia in particular, there was genuine hurt that I hadn't really considered before.
This is not to say that I could or would change how I wrote the character of Miriam. Within the story, she's part of the tension that spurs Julia to make certain decisions and changing her would really affect the story arc, (not to mention that the book is long enough without adding the full development of yet another character), but this view was instructive, reminding me, once again, of the risks of the one-dimensional character, even one who is by necessity.
When I thanked the woman for her honesty, she shrugged it off. She's never been afraid to give her opinion. But she thought I ought to know.
"In case you do a sequel," she said and her eyes lit up. "You can have the wedding in that book!"
On this busy, busy Monday, this is Danny Kaye and me reminding you to always TTTR: Take Time To Read!
Happy Monday, y'all!
I haven't spoken much about Lent this year yet. I don't know why I haven't, except that this year, it seems to be an exceptionally private time. It is, of course, a time of meditation, of clearing the chaff from the wheat, the re-ordering of things according to their proper priorities, of seeing things as they really are.
Lent is a desert time. You strip down to the essentials and venture forth into the barren for forty days to seek what it is that eluded you in the time of abundance. Ours is not the only culture that's done this - Native Americans have a long history of sending young men out into the wastelands, seeking insight as part of their coming of age ritual. But our Lent is unique in that it is not showy. Like Daniel in Darius' court, we are called to a desert in the midst of the ordinary, to strengthen ourselves by the denials of things right before our eyes, things we haven't the luxury of running away from.
What is the point of all of this? The destination is as simple as Dorothy's goal on the Yellow Brick Road: we seek to find our way home. We are called to be "transformed by the renewing of our minds" because we are not of this world. (And, yes, regardless of whether or not you profess to be Christian, this last goes for you, too: this world is not your final destination. You are called to higher and better things - isn't that awesome?!)
Lent is a time of remembering who we are and whose we are. It is a time of great homesickness. It is a time to remember that there is a home waiting for us at the end of the road, lights on, door open, and a loving father, waiting with open arms to welcome us back.
Like most people, I find music incredibly inspiring and often use it to inspire me while writing. It's a tricky thing, though, finding just the right soundtrack for the write piece that you're working on. After all, John Williams' A New Hope soundtrack just won't work for, say, a romantic comedy that's not about geeks or a period piece about a family coming together after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius (note to self - must write that book...)
Anyway, to help you all out, here are some of my favorite soundtracks to write by: click on the images for a taste on Youtube. If you love 'em, let me know in the comments below. And if you have any suggestions for me, be sure to leave a comment for me, too!
I've always been a bit of a DYI person. Not that I'm the type that makes my own cheese (though it's on my to-do list) or swaps out transmissions or anything intense like that. But when it comes to publishing and writing, I generally find myself trying to do everything. Sometimes I have great results. Sometimes it's more of a 'Lesson Learned' thing.
Making my own cover for Michael Lawrence: the Season of Darkness was one of the latter. Don't get me wrong - I love this cover (the colors! the rose! the intrigue! Isn't it pretty?)! But over the course of the months, going to different live events, I got some feedback that made me realize that I have many things to learn about graphic design. Here are a few, which I now gladly share with you!
1: SIZING THE TYPE
Intention: The Season of Darkness is intended as the start of a small series, so I made the main character's name big, as it's the title of the series.
Result: Almost everyone has assumed that Michael Lawrence is the author. It's only when they squint that they see my name. Unlike Laura Holt's attempt to drum up business, putting a man's name on my book hasn't helped sales, alas!
Conclusion: Make sure the author's name is large enough to see to deflect confusion. Also, when I re-do this cover, I'll probably be listing it as 'The Season of Darkness: a Michael Lawrence mystery'.
2. THE ROSE
Intention: In the language of flowers, the white rose stands for marriage (among other things) and I thought this rose, threatened by encroaching darkness and shadow, represented Michael's marriage problems pretty well. #deepermeaning, am I right?
Result: Turns out, when most people see a rose, they think 'romance' - regardless of color (several would-be readers thought fantasy romance when they saw my rose). In contrast, the movie tie-in cover, with the two leads looking like British detectives having a stressful day, was instantly recognizable as what it was: an American murder mystery.
Conclusion: Don't try to be too clever with your imagery. If the book looks like a romance novel or a gothic adventure, mystery enthusiasts will not bite. (Alas, my poor, misunderstood rose!)
3: THE TAG-LINE
Intention: "Murder Will Out' is an idiom meaning 'murder cannot remain undetected'. I'd heard this phrase used over and over again in the mysteries I read and watched and it's the perfect tag for this particular case for reasons that I can't get into without spoilers. Plus, I knew it was English, which, as I was going for the feel of a British murder mystery, only added to its appeal.
Result: Turns out, whatever books or movies I was enjoying aren't commonly known. This phrase, which is of unknown origin but sometimes attributed to Chaucer, made more people question me than the numbers 1 and 2 combined. No one knew what it meant. As a result, no one was intrigued by it.
Conclusion: Run your tag line by a few people before you commit to them. It'll save you a lot of explanations in the long run.
In Summary, creating your own cover is a ton of fun and well-worth the time and effort. But do yourself a favor: show it to a few of your friends, neighbors, co-workers, or innocent passersby before you commit. You may be saving yourself a lot of explanations in the future!
By Joyce Poggi Hager
Musings off the Matt is a collection of warm, funny, sometimes heart-wrenching essays by New Jersey writer Joyce Poggi Hager. Ranging from family stories to recipes, they recount her Italian heritage, childhood, motherhood, and early empty nesting, Hager’s stories read like a conversation between two old friends over a cup of coffee – you’re barely a paragraph in when you find yourself feeling like you’ve known this person and her family forever.
Collected from the best of Hager's popular blog series (and featuring a story she'd written for Chicken Soup for the Soul), the essays allow you to meet the author at life's most intriguing, hilarious, and heartfelt moments: from fond childhood memories to mothering her own children, from discovering she has lime disease to helping her elderly and widowed father cope with loneliness and a move to a new city. Written with clean, tight prose, these cheery little stories are sure to provide a comforting escape and calm reassurance to anyone who’s ever dealt with family or found themselves searching for the perfect biscotti recipe. Recommended.
It's probably too early for me to have cabin fever... But I do anyway. I find myself looking longingly out the frost coated windows, day-dreaming about adventures in warm, tropical climates or running with Indiana Jones through desert valleys, trying to escape Nazis. Not that life isn't good, because it is, but because no matter what you have, there's always going to be a little part of you that's looking for more. And if you aren't careful, this desire for more will cause you to overlook certain important truths.
Which brings me to Cinderella and her glass slippers. You see, it occurred to me that very often we get exactly what we want, but we don't realize it because it's looks a little different than expected. We wanted the American dream, generally thought to consist of a house, a white picket fence, a spouse, two or three kids, and yearly vacations to Disney World, and are surprised when to discover that the American dream also includes bills and in-laws and leaky-roofs and cars that refuse to start on cold mornings. We dream of adventures and are stressed when we run into car trouble on the road. We want to meet strange and exotic peoples and cannot understand our neighbor's partying habits. We are Cinderella, who wanted to go to a ball and didn't realized that she could use the moldy old pumpkin, a few local rodents, and what had to be the most uncomfortable shoes on God's good earth to make her dream come true.
Fairy Tales are not just stories - they remind us that, under the muck and mire of real-life problems, magic awaits. We are all Cinderella, who had the most impossible shoes and the worst day-job ever - but had the eyes to see beyond these encumbrances to where her fairy-tale began.
Sometimes its hard to see beyond the every day to the great and good things that lie like buried treasure underneath. But it's there, if only we take the trouble to look. The ordinary are more often than not far more wondrous than they appear - and that applies as much to us as it does to a pair of unlikely glass slippers.
Available NOW on Amazon!